Do you want to be an instructional leader or a building manager?
Faced with this question, most of us know the “correct” answer (especially in a job interview): instructional leader, of course.
But do we really have a choice? Can you choose to be an instructional leader and not a building manager?
You can certainly hold an administrative position without exercising instructional leadership. Look around—plenty of people do.
But if you really want to be an instructional leader, can you disregard the organizational management work that’s often written off as “administrivia”?
An important and fascinating study of Florida principals found that leaders spent only about 10% of their time on instructional leadership work, such as classroom observations and PD. Meanwhile, they spent about 20% of their time on organizational management.
10% doesn’t exactly denote a top priority.
The more surprising finding: Spending more time on instruction did not correlate with higher student performance.
To investigate this weak link between student learning and instructional leadership, a report commissioned by NAESP and NASSP, the two largest associations of US school administrators, looked beyond narrow definitions of instructional leadership and focused on the role leaders play in organizations.
They suggest “broadening the definition of instructional leadership to include organizational management skills” (p. 5). Why?
Principals devoting significant time and energy to becoming instructional leaders in their schools are unlikely to see improvement unless they increase their capacity for organizational management as well. Effective instructional leadership combines an understanding of the instructional needs of the school with an ability to target resources where they are needed, hire the best available teachers, provide teachers with the opportunities they need to improve, and keep the school running smoothly.
effective administrative leadership provides a stable, predictable, and supportive foundation for a high-performing school…[and] that effective administrative and instructional leadership are inextricably intertwined and interdependent processes.
—Grissom and Loeb 2009; Blase, Blase, and Phillips 2010; in Leadership Matters: What the Research Says About the Importance of Principal Leadership, p. 5-6
In other words, teaching isn’t the only thing that has to work right for a school to be effective. Instructional leadership involves creating the conditions for instruction, not just directly supervising it.